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episode 21

Natural Light Before Flash

In this post, I will be talking about flash vs natural light. This is a somehow popular topic that’s coming up on whether you should start with flash or concentrate on using the natural lighting in the scene or think about using the pop-up flash from your camera for most beginner photographers. I want to talk about the differences between the two and why you should actually learn flash photography less and concentrate on natural light first before you even jump to the flash. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why I prefer natural lighting starting out before using flash and by the end of the post, you will find it making sense to you more.

Natural light is totally free

Well, this is a simple reason and the truth of the matter is that you do not need to purchase any equipment in order to use natural light. You basically find the light in the scene when you go to take your photos and all you need is position your scene or model so you can cast the shadows or put some highlight on certain places you want to highlight. A good example will be a portrait next to a window. Obviously you don’t want to be shooting into the window because your subject will be backlit and as such, it’ll make more sense to have your subject facing towards the window and have the light coming in and hitting the face, lighting it up and the body area and thus have a nice, evenly lit scene on the main subject and then you can worry about the background area later.

You are basically highlighting on your subject and getting that nice light on the same and that’s one of the standard ways of using the natural light in that kind of scene. You don’t need to set up any gear or deal with any settings on your flash but basically using that light coming into the room through the window and setting your camera’s settings exactly the way they are supposed to be for that light coming in and you are good.

There are a lot of photographers out there who choose to concentrate on natural light. I’ve heard a lot of people say that natural light photographers are those who do not know how to use flash or those unable to set the camera settings correctly to take a really nice photo with the flash unit. However, as someone who does natural light photography over flash, I will say that the effects you get with flash, natural light looks you so much better. Even if you are trying to mimic the natural light with the flash unit, natural light looks so much better and makes it more realistic and you don’t have to deal with weird color cast of maybe a flash unit that’s more of a blue tone and you are shooting in a warmer tone and maybe applying a gel on top of your flash. You don’t have to mess with that but you basically use the warm natural light coming into your scene and maybe make everything more flattering.

It’s much easier for beginners

Every beginner will find that it’s hard to work with a flash unit especially if you have never had an experience with the same. This I know from a personal experience and once I got hold of my first flash unit, I had no idea exactly how to set it but I got one simply because everyone said I should have one. I quickly learnt that I didn’t know what I was doing. If I went to a job I would be filtering with my camera and try to mess with the settings of my camera but also keep in mind to keep checking whether my camera settings are set to make my flash unit look as good. You can’t set your exposure to 500th of a second because your flash can’t sync with the shadows. As such, it’s a lot to think about for a beginner. If you get a flash unit and you want to play with it once in a while, well, that is something you can do in your studio, at home or elsewhere and you can test it that way but for a beginner who wants to use the flash unit for a particular job, this is not something I would recommend for you to concentrate on when going out for a job.

Someone might think that pop-out flash will do the job since all it does is fire the flash when it needs to fire and photo scene to turn up basically fine. However, on-camera flash is something I will only use to trigger other flashes. I will never have an on-camera flash or a pop-up as my main light source to try and light up a subject. It’s so unnatural, it creates red eyes and there’s a lot it does to make it scream being armature photo and you really don’t want that. So, if you are still debating on whether to use a pop-up flash or just natural light, definitely use natural light and you will be able to learn a lot.

Natural light makes you think more about your photo

Natural light allows you to think about your photo such as how to position your model just as mentioned in the first example including what time of the day to shoot, should you move a little bit closer to try and get your model’s face lit up more among many other things. That makes you think more about your photo and become more creative as opposed to just taking a flash, pointing it up to the ceiling (in case you have a rotating flash) and making it bounce all over the place.

With natural lighting, you’re able to think a little me, become more creative and can get more angles. If you are shooting through the window as your source of light, what do you need to do for your model to be more exposed? Obviously, you can’t sync it with the outside because the outside will be too bright and your model will be silvery and you can’t overexpose because then your model will not show up. So, it makes sure you think a little bit more and makes you get comfortable with using all the available light in the scene and you’ll ultimately get more creative and realistic looking photos.

It’s easily modifiable

This might be related to the first reason and that’s to say natural light is free. You don’t need to carry a lot of gear with you and only a camera, lens and maybe your reflector is necessary when you want to use natural light. However, with on-camera flash (if you have a flash unit), you will need to carry to every photo site things such as radio triggers and make sure your batteries and fully charged for it, light stands, modifiers for your lights maybe like a softbox or something like that. Instead of this, you can use natural light which is modifiable meaning that if you need to reflect anything or pop a highlight on a person’s other side of the skin for example if the light is coming from right and you want to do it on the left, it can be as something like a white piece of paper that will light them up or a poster paper. You don’t need all these stands and lights everywhere but a simple reflector which is easily modifiable which helps you travel light and this makes it one of my favorite things among the free versions as it allows you to concentrate less on the gear and more on the action you are taking.

It’s easy to transit to flash

Another reason why it’s good to start with natural light especially as a beginner is that once you master the settings and the situations you might need to shoot in with natural light, once you start implementing flash, you will take it in like a duck in water. You will know the settings for natural lighting and then you will know what you need to enhance it a little bit using a little pop-up flash. Obviously, a flash is mandatory if you are shooting in a lower light situation but you will figure out the settings you need to turn on your flash to make sure your photo is lit up correctly.

If you need to capture something in a really dark scene, you may need the whole power of the flash to fire once you take your shots and allow it to recycle for a little bit longer. Maybe you need that whole power to light up a specific scene, capture a fast moving object or something like that. Or maybe you need a little pop of light to have a catch light in the eyes, you can set your flash to a 1/64th of a second and it will just pop that little highlight in the eyes and you’ll be good. You will know if you need to zoom in a flash to reach your subject or not, you know if you can back it off, or where to point the flash to bounce off the wall or ceiling. It will be so much easier to use the flash once you have played around with or mastered the natural light. You can get a manual flash which I recommend (I don’t recommend TTL flash) because once you have it is a lot easier to use because you are in control of the settings and your camera is not telling the flash how and when to fire or what settings but instead you are telling flash everything you want it to do. It’s almost like the manual mode in your camera where you telling the flash how to operate and if you are wrong it’s going to be wrong too. This is a great option for you.

These are the 5 reasons as to why I would just concentrate on natural light before even touching a flash. You can train yourself to use natural light and enjoy the learning curve that comes with it.

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